On the United Nations’ World Water Day on Tuesday, no less than 150 companies and NGOs announced new initiatives towards enhancing water quality, conservation and management at a White House Water Summit.

Water scarcity and quality issues have already been on the radar internationally, since 663 million people lack access to clean water. The World Economic Forum in 2015 named water scarcity the world’s biggest risk.

But until this year, most in the U.S. have taken water availability and quality for granted. News about children poisoned by lead from tap water in Flint, Michigan, and farmers abandoning crops in the drought-plagued West made the nation pay attention.

The contamination in Flint, attributed to pipe corrosion not prevented by a chemical many utilities add to water, led to the discovery that toxic water flows in other economically stressed cities.

Meanwhile drought in California, which produces half of the nation’s vegetables and fruits, made Big Ag as well as water utilities and Silicon Valley innovators sit up.

Facing such dire headlines, businesses and NGOs have invested more time and money into water recycling, desalination and irrigation technologies. Here are some of the big moves named this week.
GE and American Water

GE said it plans to invest $500 million into research and development during the next decade to expand capabilities in water reuse and wastewater technologies to solve the world’s biggest water challenges.

GE also is joining in an initiative with American Water, the largest water utility holding company in the U.S., to identify possibilities to develop Internet of Things-type solutions and products for the nation’s water industry.

They plan to use data analytics and apps to improve the capability of water utilities to maintain infrastructure.

The Flint water contamination shed light on just how old and decrepit much of the nation’s water infrastructure is.

Flint’s contamination shed light on the decrepitude of much of the nation’s water infrastructure such as century-old lead water pipes in many cities in the Northeast and Midwest.

Ernst & Young pointed out in a recent report that because water pipe infrastructure is hard to reach underground and because water is priced cheaply, utilities have neither been inclined nor able to invest much in upgrading piping. Most utilities don’t recover enough money in water fees to pay for such infrastructure upgrades, and many are already burdened by debt.

But analyzing data from sensors can detect patterns in water flow within the pipes to help utilities detect leaks without actually digging underground to get to the pipe, the report suggested.

GE, American Water and others are pursuing such ideas.

“We are developing software, advanced predictive analytics and diagnostic tools that will give operators the real-time data they need to better manage their critical water infrastructure assets 24 hours a day,” said Hener Markhoff, president of GE Power, in a statement.

GE also plans to increase its business of supplying water treatment equipment to water utilities, expanding it to 7 billion gallons a day from 3 billion currently.

Meanwhile, in its own operations GE aims to continue to conserve water. Since starting its Ecoimagination strategy in 2006, GE has reduced freshwater use by 42 percent. Now it plans another 20 percent in reductions from 2011 levels.

And the GE Foundation will continue investing in the installation of water purification systems in community clinics in Honduras, Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda and Cambodia.

Water quality reports are often highly technical, challenging to decipher and usually difficult to find on municipal websites.

WaterSmart Software is offering data analytics software on a smaller scale, in applications sold to utilities to inform customers on water usage and potential leaks. The startup on Tuesday said it is adding eQuality software that lets utilities communicate water quality information to customers.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency requires that water utilities and water districts publish information about their water quality, WaterSmart said “these reports are highly technical, challenging to decipher and usually difficult to find on municipal websites,” and are required to be filed only once a year. WaterSmart’s application, if utilities used it, would provide ongoing information on testing results, contaminants and so on.

In another R&D initiative, industrial giant Pentair said it will open two application centers to develop tools to help cities as well as industrial and commercial companies conserve water.

CEO Randall Hogan said the centers will focus on industrial water reuse in manufacturing and water stewardship in food and beverage processing. In its own facilities in Conroe, Texas, Pentair engineered a closed-loop water system to cool production equipment.

Pentair said it will also work on water safety technologies — or ways to transport water in developing countries while keeping the water free of water-borne pathogens.
A Water Climate Bonds Standard

GE, Pentair and other companies announced their new plans in Washington, D.C. where they were gathered for a White House Water Summit. The federal government also announced initiatives, including public-private financing partnerships.

One was a commitment of $4 billion of financing for innovations in water treatment, recycling, reuse and conservation. It also announced an new effort Building National Capabilities for Long-term Drought Resilience, hedging on a continuation of the severe drought in the West. And it announced $35 million in grant making programs to universities and organizations that conduct research on watersheds, protecting drinking water, the health impacts of water conservation strategies and the impacts to our water systems from extreme events.

Alongside the federal government initiatives, CDP announced it is introducing water security into its supply-chain program. It said it will aim to support U.S. businesses in reducing their water footprints and negative impacts to water supplies as well as enhancing water security across their supply chains. Through CDP’s supply-chain program, it expects that companies will use data from water suppliers to shift billions of corporate procurement spending to support sustainable water use.

A group of NGO including Ceres, the Climate Bonds Initiative, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, CDP and the World Resources Institute announced they are launching a Water Climate Bonds Standard to provide investors with verifiable, science-based criteria for evaluating water-related bonds.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard will assist issuers in the global corporate, municipal and sovereign markets to size up green-bond offerings. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission expects to be the first issuer to use the standard.

Barbara Grady
Wednesday, March 23, 2016 – 12:01am